Rev. W. Douglas Banks

Rev. W. Douglas Banks with his congregation at Mt. Zion Baptist Church of Germantown in February.

— Photo courtesy Rev. W. Douglas Banks

The Rev. W. Douglas Banks, pastor of Mt. Zion Baptist Church of Germantown, is recovering from the coronavirus. He believes it has strengthened his faith in God.

Banks said members of Mt. Zion will observe Easter service on Sunday from their homes.

“I think it’s a wonderful time in this awful season to reexamine the purpose why churches exist and not be attached to the idea that God only exists in this building,” Banks said. “I don’t think that all. I’ve been able to see and hope people have been able to see worship and gathering has deep meaning.”

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In late February, Banks felt a slight cold had turned into bronchitis. After having bronchitis in June 2019, he was not surprised to be dealing with more breathing issues.

His primary care doctor identified a residue of bronchitis that a previous prescription of antibiotics should have eliminated. At that point, COVID-19 still had not been mentioned and doctors were not testing for it.

The next three weeks would change everything for Banks.

Banks said he used Tylenol and noticed that some of his ailments began to disappear. However, his breathing complications continued. He returned to the emergency room. Again, Banks’ illness was diagnosed as pneumonia. He was prescribed antibiotics and this time was tested for COVID-19.

As a precaution, Banks decided to move church services to live streaming. That decision would prove to be responsible. Ten days after being tested, Banks’ test showed that he had the virus.

“Now they have drive-through testing, [but] at that time they were sending it out and it wasn’t quick at all,” he said. “By the time I got the results two Mondays ago, I had gone through the worst of it. My fever was gone and coughing had dissipated.”

According to data released last week, Blacks in Philadelphia accounted for the largest share of the fatalities from COVID-19 for which racial data was available, with 30 of the 78 deaths, or 38%, slightly lower than their population makeup in the city (44%).

Whites made up 22 of the 78 deaths (28%), and one person who died was “another race,” which was not disclosed. The city lacked racial data on 25 deaths.

While each day gets better for him, Banks notes that he still cannot smell. A loss of taste and smell are common symptoms of COVID-19.

Banks has spent over three weeks in quarantine at home, where no one in his family tested positive for COVID-19.

According to Banks, using digital resources like Facebook and livestreaming to remotely have service has been of great assistance in helping move Mt. Zion into the future.

“I just began in December of 2019 and am still learning the lay of the land,” he said. “With us being the oldest Black church in Germantown, there is a lot of tradition and a major impact on the community. Right now we use Facebook and I’m pretty savvy with electronics and have been able to navigate and utilize that.”

Banks noticed that while many people tune into live sermons, other people may watch at a later time that better fits their schedule.

Decisions by some religious leaders to continue leading services in person during the pandemic have been a subject of nationwide debate. Banks’ diagnosis shaped his perspective on holding traditional church services in a significant way.

“I don’t fault or think negatively of any pastor that wants to keep them open if they want to keep them open,” Banks said. “But I really think once the disease hits people around religious leaders, I believe they will make different decisions.”

Deacon Ralph Burnley, who assists Banks with church duties, agreed that COVID-19 has changed the way church members connect with one another.

“When somebody gets sick, I call them as a deacon. We just lost two members and can’t do funerals right now, so we will probably try to do a cremation service,” he said.

For Burnley, certain human elements that come with seeing friends in person are irreplaceable.

“I miss the fellowship, us encouraging each other, the warm smiles and handshakes,” Burnley said. “It’s all totally different because we have a small congregation.”

Even if members of Mt. Zion cannot fellowship in person for Easter Sunday, a livestream of service will connect people and make them forget the stresses of life during a pandemic.

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